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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) La forza del destino (1869 revised version)
Maria Callas (soprano) – Leonora; Richard Tucker (tenor) – Don Alvaro; Carlo Tagliabue (baritone) – Don Carlo di Vargas; Elena Nicolai (mezzo) – Preziosilla; Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass) – Padre Guardiano; Renato Capecchi (baritone) – Fra Melitone; Plinio Clabassi (bass) – Marchese di Calatrava; Rina Cavallari (mezzo) – Curra; Gino Del Signore (tenor) – Trabuco; Dario Caselli (bass) – Mayor of Hornachuelos/Surgeon; Giulio Scarinci (tenor) – Soldier/Gambler; Ottorino Bagalli (tenor) – Soldier/Gambler
Chorus of La Scala, Milan/Vittore Veneziani
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin
rec. 17-21, 23-25, 27 August 1954, Teatro alla Scala, Milan PRISTINE AUDIO PACO172 [3 CDs: 167:51]
Philip Borg-Wheeler reviewed the Naxos issue of this back in 2008. He rightly identified the main strengths of the recording as Serafin’s authoritative direction and Callas’ incomparable Leonora; the conducting is typically well-judged, both pacy and intense by turns, as this gloomily beautiful music demands, and no-one embraces the drama, inflects the text and caresses those glorious melodies as affectingly as Callas - although Price in 1964 and Tebaldi in the (pretty raw!) live Mitropoulos recording run her close. The infamous "flap" in Callas' voice is only occasionally very slightly in evidence and she more than compensates with heart-wrenching portamenti and thrilling excursions into her lower register, her dark tones matching the foreboding of the music. She enthrals the listener from her very first aria; her emotional involvement is absolute.
He is less enthused by Tucker, whereas I am more of a fan and do not agree that his tone lacks bloom. Tucker is occasionally guilty of his besetting fault of being too lachrymose, but the top rings out magnificently; he could, however, have been more nuanced in his use of dynamic variety as he tends to sing out uniformly loudly. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Capecchi's firm, characterful Melitone, is not up to their standard, though Nicolai is acceptable in the essentially irritating role of Preziosilla, with her silly tub-thumping music. Tagliabue is clearly past his best, being rather lacklustre and dry-toned, but he does not disgrace himself, despite some rather nasal, laboured sounds, and he improves as the opera progresses. My one real bugbear is Rossi-Lemeni; I have never understood why he was so esteemed. The voice is woolly, unsteady, lacking centre and without the true bass gravitas the role of Padre Guardiano requires - although at least he certainly sounds old…
Unfortunately, although it is not as badly redacted as some earlier recordings and some scenes, such as the soup kitchen scene in Act 4, have even been restored, there are still cuts in some arias and a whole scene between Padre Guardiano and Melitone in Act 4 is missing - not that I much mind about that. The sound on the EMI issue is clear, clean and brilliant but there is a fair amount of hiss and edginess from the original tapes. EMI first remastered it in 1978 as “stereo” and again the1987 digital remastering for CD is labelled as such, which surprises me given its early recording date and Walter Legge’s resistance to that mode. That EMI remaster still sounds to me more like “expanded” mono or very narrow stereo – if that makes any sense - but, in any case, it remains very listenable.
However, it has now reappeared in this new remastering into Ambient Stereo by Pristine and the results are very welcome and apparent – a huge improvement. Sound engineer Andrew Rose has corrected pitches and refreshed the sound such that it now has much more body and spaciousness; the hiss and edginess have gone and everything now sounds much more present, so this is now the one to buy if you want this recording in best sound. Tucker’s Alvaro I can hear on the Schippers set but I certainly still want to hear Callas and Serafin. Nonetheless, as much as I enjoy their contributions, I must advise that in many other respects this recording is superseded by others which enjoy better casting across the board.